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Full text of "The Gay Genius"

28                           ,    THE GAY .GENIUS

pens in Chinese families, the father had married Su Tungpo's elder
sister to a first cousin in the mother's family. We cannot know details
at this late date, but we know that the young bride was unhappy in
the Cheng family. Perhaps she was persecuted by her husband's
relations. Anyway, she soon died and under circumstances that stirred
up Su Shun's indigation. It seems the girl's father-in-law was a
thorough scoundrel. Su Shim wrote a poem couched in bitter words
and blaming himself for his daughter's death. He then did an unusual
thing. He compiled a family genealogy, had it inscribed in stone, and
erected a pavilion over it. To celebrate the occasion, he gathered the
entire Su clan, before whom he intended to read a public denunciation
of his wife's family. After the members of the clan had poured wine
offerings to the dead ancestors, Su said to the clansmen that a "certain"
person in the. village, meaning his wife's brother, represented a power-
ful family; that he had brought moral chaos into the village; that he
had driven out the orphan child of his own brother and monopolised
the family property; that he had placed his concubine above his wife
and indulged in licentious pleasures; that the father and son caroused
together and the women's behaviour was scandalous; that they were
snobs, "confusing the wealthy with the nice people"; that their beauti-
ful carriages dazzled the eyes of their poor neighbours, and their money
and official connections were able to/ influence the court; and finally,
that "they are the scoundrels of the village. I dare not tell this to all
the villagers, but I say it to the people of our own clan." The father
undoubtedly offended his wife's family for ever, but he was prepared
to sever all connections with them, and he told his sons never to have
anything to do with their brother-in-law. For more than forty years
after the incident neither Su Tungpo nor his brother had any contact
with their brother-in-law, Cheng Chihtsai, although they maintained
cordial relations with the other cousins after their father's death. The
challenge to the powerful clan and the tone of the public denunciation
show in the father something of the impetuosity and intolerance of evil
that were characteristics of the poet in his later career.

The mother was very unhappy over the incident. She, too, felt great
sorrow over the loss of her young daughter. It is difficult to surmise
whether, in this family conflict, she stood for her own dead daughter
or for her maiden family. The mother was, as we have said, a well-
educated woman, her father being an official who had risen to a
fairly high rank at the capital. For all we know, she may have
rebelled against the snobbery of her family, or at least against the
debauchery of her brother. She was broken-hearted and her health
rapidly declined.

Charming legends very generally accepted in China credit Tungpo
with having a very talented, if not beautiful, younger sister. She is